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See-Saw (2023)
for marimba, and violoncello



marimba and violoncello 

Duration: 11'

SEE-SAW is written for my friends Joachim Theodore Lim and Zoi Yeh Tzu-Jou Yeh, also known as the Charles Street Duo. The title is inspired by the iconic playground staple - a long board balanced on a central pivot, with one child (or more!) seated on each end. At the same time, the title references Sara Florian’s Seesaw (for Mimì), a poem in remembrance of the author’s cousin and childhood playmate. The lines ‘rocking on a seesaw’ and ‘mid-air I hug you free…’ sets in motion the shadows of a bygone childhood, giving impetus to musical imagination.


‘Seesaw’ is quite an interesting word, where the present and past tense forms ‘see’ and ‘saw’ and placed one after another, bringing to mind the playfulness of the “now-you-see, now-you-don’t!” phrase from a once-famous advertisement. It could also refer to the alternation of emotions or situations, or directions.

This simple game of a plank rocking on a fulcrum, has brought so much joy to generations of children, and people young-at-heart. A New York Times article reports how the seesaw has declined as the mainstay of playgrounds, as the equipment is deemed by some as dangerous for children. However, advocates praise the seesaw for allowing children to learn and experience while having fun - balancing, weight distribution, developing strength and more. Come to think of it, the seesaw does resemble a giant weighing scale.


As for the music, I worked on finding various musical ways to express these through the piece – balancing, pivoting, high-low contrasts, alternation, subtle shifts of proportions. For instance, musical analogies of these could be observed in the interplay of the two hands of the marimba player, balancing of two mallets on each hand, and the string-crossing action of the bow on the violoncello. The additional vantage point of being a parent also gave me the chance to revisit the playground, with a hint of nostalgia.


Chen Zhangyi, 2023

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